As the world is slowly getting back into the travel groove, so do tens of thousands of people around the world who rent out their properties on platforms such as AirBnB and the millions who use these properties for their travel accommodations.
AirBnB has grown from an apartment-based San Francisco startup into a multi-billion dollar business, and its name has become ubiquitous among everybody who travels. People have welcomed and embraced this long-needed alternative to the mundanity of hotels as the default accommodation for travelers. AirBnB has been for the most part good for me too, especially during European trips where, thanks to AirBnB, you get to stay in unique properties, often in the very centre of cities or unusually set up, such as a penthouse, an attic room or even a castle.
But something has been happening lately
that has got me questioning whether AirBnB is still as desirable an option as it used to be. For starters, there are simply too many AirBnB “horror” stories to ignore; in fact, a simple Google search will reveal plethora of sites dedicated to those stories, such as this one. From host assaults to raw sewage in the shower drain to dysfunctional appliances – yes, there have been plenty of such unfortunate cases.
It shouldn’t be that surprising, really. After all, not everyone’s apartment or bedroom is going to be well-maintained or up to a standard of even a mediocre motel. And there are truly all types of people who rent their homes on AirBnB. Sometimes these people live there, which could make for awkward situations, when you have to tippy-toe every time you come back late or use a bathroom at night, or your host’s elderly mother may wander in your room without knocking, as happened to me once in Croatia.
On the other hand, if the host does not live on the premises, should something go wrong, you are kind of on your own unless he is nearby. There is no consierge or 24-hour professional staff on hand with AirBnB.
Once your booking with AirBnB is accepted, no matter how far in advance, your money is gone.
It’s committed. It’s not like with hotels that usually have generous cancellation policies. So if your plans change, let’s say a couple of days before your trip, you are out of luck. That goes against every instinct and rule of a budget traveler. I myself book AirBnB only a day or two in advance when I am close to 100% sure I am making the trip and it’s truly the best option available.
Don’t forget that along with the money for your host, AirBnB gets a hefty cut that comes out – you know it – from your wallet, too. And should your host not show up, as happened to me in Cadiz, Spain once, you might get your booking money back, but not the AirBnB fee. At least I did not.
Don’t know the exact time when you are arriving?
Well, that is also a problem with AirBnB, because unless your host lives on the premises, you are supposed to arrange the time for the keys handover, often a day or more in advance, when you are arriving. And let’s face it, we don’t always have seamless wireless connection when on the road, especially in a foreign country, so you could end up rushing and running for half of your journey trying to make the prearranged time. Or, if you arrive too late, you are risking finding yourself homeless for the night as basically happened to be once (I did find a hostel to crash in, but that’s another story). So that’s another huge drawback of AirBnB.
And don’t forget that cleaning fee that basically makes most AirBnBs unsuitable for short term stays. But wait, doesn’t that mean you don’t need to worry how clean you leave the place when you check out? Wrong. Most hosts are pretty adamant that you keep the place tidy, which is understandable from their standpoint, but can be a nuisance if you happen to be a bit messy and/or are used to hotel chamber maids making up your room every day. So instead of kicking back and putting your feet up, you throw away your own rubbish, wipe every spill and sweep all the dirt. Because you care about your AirBnB rating.
And that is my main beef with AirBnB.
The rating system that doesn’t just rate the host, but also you, the guest. But isn’t that only fair? Well, the hotels don’t rate you. The airlines don’t rate you. Neither do car rental companies. So why should you worry that one puddle of beer on the floor or one accidentally broken lamp could make you a pariah of one of the world’s biggest accommodation providers? Especially since you have already paid for cleaning and will have to pay for anything you broke, which is fair enough. But what is not fair is that a grumpy host might not only write a subpar review for you if you do anything like that, he might also leave you with a retaliatory negative review if you give him anything less than 5 stars yourself.
And good luck fixing that rating of yours. AirBnB has been notoriously hard to reach in case of a bad review or any other disputes. So it’s likely you will forever be marked with a blemished record on AirBnB, which seems to be like a stigma for so many people.
Isn’t something wrong with that picture? Is AirBnB acting a bit too cocky lately? Does it reckon itself an unavoidable monopoly, much like Facebook, and disrupt not just the hotel business but the established travel rules as it pleases? Do we really not have alternatives?
Fortunately, the answer is: we absolutely do.
Lately, for example, I have been using Booking.com to find most of my accommodations in Europe and couldn’t be happier with the service. Not only it’s usually cheaper than AirBnB, but in most cases, you don’t even have to pay in advance – you simply make a reservation and pay at the property, much like with a car rental. And while you can (and should) rate your stay, there is no rating the guest, i.e. you. Booking usually combines hotels and private accommodations, so you can choose accordingly.
In Asia, there is a similar service, Agoda. And Vrbo is the more recent alternative to AirBnB that works similarly, although it is not as widespread as Booking yet. For longer term accommodations, there are Facebook groups in every locale that offer better deals than AirBnB on apartments and homes.
Finally, let’s not forget good ol’ hotels. With the traditional service, relative anonymity, carefree stays and of course, no ratings to you, they are still a solid accommodation choice. As are hostels if you are on a tighter budget. Read more about pros and cons of some of these choices in my old post here, and don’t let your accommodation decisions be dictated by a certain cocky tech giant!